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Text Messages as Campaign Finance Reform?

Presidential candidates want to raise money the same way the Red Cross does after natural disasters: with text messages.

Norman Pogson /

Federal election regulators are mulling this campaign finance reform for the LOL era. If approved, people could send a $10 or $20 donation by texting a particular number rather than punching in a credit-card number and other personal details. “It’s exactly like American Idol-style shows where you text your vote,” says psychology professor Larry Rosen. “This is a generation that lives vicariously through Twitter and reality shows.”

Text donations tap into people’s impulsive nature, experts say. If the these plans are approved, people will make instant donation decisions, says Michael Cornfield, acting director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “It’s just like how people give money to a charity moments after they might witness scenes from a devastating earthquake on television,” he says. Obama’s recent support for same-sex marriage is one example of how one speech can motivate a group of people to suddenly donate, he says.

Allowing text donations would also appeal to an army of younger voters, Rosen says. As reported, Americans send an average of 41 texts a day – but those aged 19-25 sending an average of 110 texts a day, according to a 2011 study by Pew Research Center. Plus, getting an increasing amount of small donations allows political parties to raise more money while staying within Federal limits on individual contributions, says financial adviser David Abuaf. “This is the driving force behind the text donation plan,” he says.

Presidential candidates are also raffling evenings with celebrities as a way to attract donations. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has offered dinner with Donald Trump for one lucky donor, while President Obama offered evenings at George Clooney’s Los Angeles home and cocktails at the New York townhouse of Sarah Jessica Parker as prizes. “They are taking a cue from charities,” says social psychologist Matt Wallaert. “Once members of the public get involved they’re more likely to make repeat donations.”


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